2011 prospects make strong impression at prospect tournaments

By Ken McKenna
Photo: the St. Louis BluesTy Rattie (61) was one of several 2011 draftees to make a good impression at the 2011 prospect tournaments (courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Two NHL prospect tournaments, the Toronto Maple Leafs event and the Traverse City edition put on by the Detroit Red Wings, are now officially in the books. While a prospect’s progress is probably better judged during a team’s official training camp, these prospect tournaments usually provide a few clues as to which players have made some strides during the off-season.

The players that tend to draw the most interest from fans are the newly-drafted prospects chosen just a couple of months prior to these tournaments. Fans get their first look at players that they hope will someday star with, or at least become solid contributors to, their favorite NHL team.

The 2011 crop of draftees were represented at both of these tournaments, with several turning in solid performances.

Perhaps the most notable of the 2011 performers was Ottawa Senators‘ top pick, Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad was a player whose stock rose steadily leading up to Draft Day, where he was chosen sixth overall by the Senators. At the Leafs tournament in Oshawa, Ontario, Zibanejad provided ample evidence that the Senators made a wise selection in choosing the budding Swedish forward. Zibanejad displayed a sound offensive game, displaying a nose for the net while also showing that he isn’t afraid to go into the corners. As Binghamton Senators and the Senators’ prospect squad head coach Kurt Kleinendorst stated, Zibanejad already has few holes in his game, even at this early stage. Zibanejad led his team to the tournament title, something that Senators fans are hoping will be played out in a future Stanley Cup playoff when Zibanejad finally joins the Senators.

The Chicago Blackhawks iced a couple of 2011 draftees that impressed at the Leafs tournament. The Blackhawks top selection in that draft, forward Philip Danault of the QMJHL‘s Victoriaville Tigres, displayed a good passing touch as well as some hard-nosed play around the net. The player that was often on the receiving end of Danault’s passes was fellow 2011 pick, Brandon Saad. Saad, a forward with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, saw his stock fall a bit at the NHL Draft. Based on his play at the Leafs tournament, the Blackhawks may have landed themselves a future power forward with some offensive ability.

At the Traverse City tournament, the St. Louis Blues top 2011 pick, second-rounder Ty Rattie, turned in the best performance of the players from his draft class participating in this tournament. Rattie played on a productive line featuring the Blues 2008 pick, Philip McRae, and college scorer Jay Barriball. Rattie displayed the same nose for the net that he has shown playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. The Blues may well have added another offensive weapon in Rattie while getting good value with their second round pick.

Minnesota Wild first rounder Zack Phillips seemed to pick up where he left off at the end of last season while playing for the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs. Phillips centered the Wild’s top line at the tournament, playing between WHL forwards Kris Foucault and Brett Bulmer. Phillips displayed some offensive prowess while also playing a feisty game that was very much in line with his play last season in Saint John.

But is wasn’t just forwards from the Class of 2011 that provided glimpses of better things to come as a couple of defensemen turned in good performances, as well.

The Detroit Red Wings chose defender Ryan Sproul late in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft. Sproul was somewhat of a mystery man at the start of last season, his first for the OHL‘s Soo Greyhounds. But his draft stock rose as the season progressed, and that progression seems to have continued right into this week’s prospect tournament. Sproul contributed offensively for the Red Wings while also displaying maturity not often seen in defensive prospects of his young age.

The New York Rangers were another team that may have gotten good value for a later round selection as the second of their two fifth round selections, Samuel Noreau, turned in a solid performance for the runner-up squad at this tournament (the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Rangers in the championship game, 5-2). The 6-5 Noreau isn’t afraid to use his big frame while defending in his own end, but he showed that he is more than just a big bodied, stay-at-home-defenseman.